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LOUISVILLE— Less than 24 hours after free throws cost them a game, the Elizabethtown Panthers made sure lightning didn’t strike twice.
The Panthers hit 71.9 percent of their 32 attempts from the foul line, including 12-of-14 in the fourth quarter, to rally past the Thomas Worthington (Ohio) Cardinals, 44-39 in the Wes Unseld Tournament at Louisville Seneca.
“We didn’t start off well, missing our first five, but we did much better today,” Elizabethtown coach James Haire said. “You go back and look at games and usually free-throw percentage is the difference in winning and losing.”
Elizabethtown (6-2) understands that better than most after missing 10 free throws Friday in a one-point loss to Hopkinsville. But against Thomas Worthington, there were no such issues.
“We just had confidence,” said Elizabethtown senior Nic McDonald, who made 15-of-17 foul shots. “We know we can hit them, but we had to go out and do it. You have to have confidence you’re going to make them.”
After a lackluster first half, Haire challenged his team, saying someone needed to step up and McDonald came to the rescue.
Trailing 32-23 with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter, McDonald scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the final 10 minutes.
“We needed a spark,” McDonald said. “We needed someone to step up and score, but we needed a leader. I tried to talk more and be more of a vocal leader.”
McDonald, who also had six rebounds and two assists, made a layup and then converted a three-point play with 53 seconds left in the third quarter to pull the Panthers within 32-28.
After a Cardinal free throw, McDonald and junior Zach Patterson each hit two free throws, and then senior Ryan Harris came up with a steal and passed ahead to McDonald, who turned it into a three-point play to give Elizabethtown a 35-33 lead, its first since 13-10 in the second quarter.
The Cardinals tied the game at 35, but McDonald converted his third three-point play, made two free throws and then 1-of-2 foul shots after a Patterson steal to give the Panthers a 41-37 lead with 1:30 left.
“We need a leader,” Haire said. “Nic is a leader on the floor. I was looking for one person to give us a little spark. I was just looking for someone to change the momentum.”
Although Thomas Worthington pulled within 41-39 with 57 seconds left, McDonald hit two more free throws and then senior Dominique Harding made 1-of-2 in the final 28 seconds to secure win.
“This helps us a lot,” McDonald said. “This shows us we can win close games. In the district and region tournaments, you have to pull out close games and we know we can do that.”
On Friday, the Panthers, who led for much of the first half, had a chance to knock off Hopkinsville but a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was partially blocked as the Tigers held on for a 64-63 win.
Elizabethtown was led by senior Ja’Von Cotton, who had 23 points and five rebounds. McDonald added 17 points, while Harding had 15 points and five rebounds before fouling out with 6:12 remaining.
Poor free throw shooting and Hopkinsville’s dominance on the boards led to Elizabethtown’s downfall. The Panthers were 13-of-23 from the foul line and the Tigers held a 49-35 rebounding advantage.
“We talk about the importance of free throws,” Haire said. “They cost us. We can’t leave points on the floor. They’re a good team, but we gave them points on rebounds. They hurt us on second-chance points.”
Harding gave the Panthers a 40-37 lead after making 1-of-2 free throws with 4:53 left in the third quarter, but the Tigers used a 9-1 spurt to take a 46-41 lead.
Despite Harding fouling out, Elizabethtown mounted a comeback. McDonald made a layup and Cotton converted a three-point play to tie the score at 54 with 5:01 remaining.
Elizabethtown took a 59-58 lead on a McDonald 3-pointer, and after the Tigers third putback in the final 5 minutes, Cotton made a 15-foot jumper to give the Panthers a 61-60 lead.
But Hopkinsville senior guard Trey Edwards scored four straight points and then the Tigers were able to hold on in the final seconds.
“We were able to get them to be a half-court team,” Haire said. “They like to run and get up and down the floor. We slowed them down and played the game at our tempo. I’m proud of the things we did, but I’m disappointed in the outcome.”
ELIZABETHTOWN 44, THOMAS WORTHINGTON 39
T. Worthington 8 16 8 7—39
Elizabethtown 8 9 11 16—44
Thomas Worthington (4-3)
Yemi Sholesi 10, Tyrrell Stewart 8, Jaret Gerber 7, Brady Roesah 5, Luke Porteus 3, Alex Baughman 2. Isaiah Boyd 2, Nick Veal 2. FG: 15-44. FT: 7-11. 3-pointers: 2-13 (Roesah 1-1, Porteus 1-1, Stewart 0-1, Daniel Crease 0-4, Gerber 0-6). Rebs: 32 (Stewart 7, Sholesi 7). Assists: 8 (Baughman 3).
Nic McDonald 26, Dominique Harding 11, J.R. Royal 4, Zach Patterson 2. Troy Johnson 1. FG: 10-40. FT: 23-32. 3-pointers: 1-10 (McDonald 1-3, Ja’Von Cotton 0-1, Guy Williams 0-1, Ryan Harris 0-2, Patterson 0-3). Rebs: 34 (Harding 7, McDonald 6). Assists: 5 (McDonald 2).
HOPKINSVILLE 64, ELIZABETHTOWN 63
Hopkinsville 14 18 16 16—64
Elizabethtown 18 15 11 19—63
Trey Edwards 18, Demarius Cager 15, Jaqualis Matlock 12, Demarius Henry 9, Jay Davis 6, Quan Poindexter 4. FG: 25-70. FT: 12-21. 3-pointers: 2-16 (Henry 2-11, Edwards 0-4, Matlock 0-1). Rebs: 49 (Edwards 13, Matlock 11, Cager 10). Assists: 11 (Cager 4).
Cotton 23, McDonald 17, Harding 15, Patterson 4, Harris 2, Williams 2. FG: 23-57. FT: 13-23. 3-pointers: 4-13 (McDonald 2-3, Cotton 2-5, Patterson 0-1, Harris 0-1, Jackson Gillock 0-1, Williams 0-2). Rebs: 35 (Patterson 11). Assists: 11 (Gillock 4, Harris 4).
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays Lockland (Ohio) at 3 p.m. today for fifth place in the Wes Unseld Tournament at Louisville Seneca.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.